The Trade Deadline passed almost six weeks ago and -- what can we say? We miss it. The gossip, the chatter, the tension. OK, the games themselves sure are fun, but trade speculation is also part of what makes baseball great.
Well, fear not, friends. Soon enough, a new swap session will begin. And because it’s never too early to look ahead, here are a bunch of names we’ll be speculating about in the offseason ahead.
Byron Buxton, CF, Twins
One of the most electrifying players in MLB. One of the most injury-prone players in MLB. So his future value is impossible to ascertain. But having turned down a reported $80 million extension, with free agency looming after 2022, Buxton is a trade candidate for a Twins team trying to figure out where to go next after a messy 2021.
Josh Hader, LHP, Brewers
We don’t have to tell you how important Hader is to the Brew Crew. But we also don’t have to tell you what can happen on small-market clubs when players -- especially relievers -- get expensive near the end of their term of contractual control. The Brewers have control of Hader for just two more seasons. And because he’s so darned good, he’s going to get pretty darned expensive. So while Hader is an unmistakably important piece of the Brewers’ identity, we can’t rule out a trade here.
Eric Hosmer, 1B, and Wil Myers, RF, Padres
We’ll group these two together, because the goal of trading either or both would be the same -- salary relief. The Padres are approaching the luxury-tax threshold. With Myers’ contract winding down (he’s guaranteed $22.5 million in 2022, with a $20 million team option or $1 million buyout for ’23) and his slash line over the last two seasons a respectable .271/.347/.507, perhaps all the years of trade discussions will now amount to something. Hosmer’s more complicated, as he’s owed another $60 million over the next four years and has been basically a league-average bat in three years in San Diego. But with either guy, the Padres could conceivably attach a prospect to entice another club to take on salary, which would allow them to spend on pitching.
Ketel Marte, CF/2B, D-backs
Though their 2021 season went way off track, the D-backs weren’t willing to engage in Marte trade chatter. His health didn’t cooperate at that time, anyway. But with the big league club looking far away from contention and Marte only under control for three more seasons -- at very reasonable and, from an acquiring team perspective, attractive rates -- dealing him might be the best way to accelerate the rebuild process, painful though it may be. Marte has a .923 OPS over the last three seasons. His defensive value has varied, but getting bounced back and forth between the infield and outfield probably hasn’t helped.
J.D. Martinez, DH, Red Sox
Martinez once again has the ability to opt out of what is now the final year of his deal with the Red Sox, worth $19.4 million. If the National League adopts the DH, as expected, perhaps he will opt out this time. But if he doesn’t, he’s a trade candidate for a Boston team that might be more inclined to bring back Kyle Schwarber for a DH/outfield role. Martinez bounced back in a big way this season with an All-Star effort, though his numbers have waned a little bit in the second half.
Sonny Gray, RHP, Reds
The Reds pared payroll last winter, and, unless Nick Castellanos opts out (and that’s a distinct possibility), they have about $86 million committed to just six players (Gray included) in 2022. So it will be interesting to see which direction they will go this winter. Gray is owed $10.2 million in 2022, with a $12 million team option for 2023. Having righted his career in Cincinnati with a 141 ERA+ in 63 starts, he would attract interest.
Willson Contreras, C, Cubs
Whether the Cubs intend to build around Contreras -- one of their last remaining links to the 2016 championship club -- or make him the next member of that team to get dealt remains to be seen. Contreras is a good defender with a .752 OPS over the last two seasons, so he has a lot of value at a position of scarcity. He’s 29 and under control only through 2022, so the Cubs -- once again -- have a big decision to make with a pending free agent.
Whit Merrifield, INF/OF, Royals
This poor guy has had his name dragged through the trade-rumor mud for years now, and we hate to do it again. A trade probably won’t happen, as Royals general manager Dayton Moore is known to get emotionally attached to his players. But as important as Merrifield has been to Kansas City, there is a good argument for a rebuilding ballclub extracting value from veteran players however possible -- and Merrifield is only under their contractual control for another two seasons. Maybe, having dealt a fan favorite in Danny Duffy (albeit just prior to his free agency), the tide is turning here, and the Royals will more seriously engage with Merrifield’s many suitors.
Luke Voit, 1B, Yankees
“I deserve to play just as much as [Anthony Rizzo],” Voit said in the midst of a mostly miserable season, shortly after the Yankees acquired Rizzo at the Trade Deadline. So what happens if the Yankees decide to retain Rizzo in free agency? Yep, you guessed it. Voit becomes trade bait. He’s recently backed up his self-confidence by slugging again, albeit in a more limited role. But Voit, the 2020 Major League home run leader, would be an attractive trade chip with three more years of arbitration control. Clint Frazier’s health and performance hasn’t cooperated, but he’s another trade candidate after the addition of Joey Gallo.
Mitch Haniger, RF, Mariners
This is a weird one, because, on the one hand, the Mariners are trying to turn the page from rebuild to contention, so dealing one of their best players seemingly makes zero sense. (Besides, if they were going to do that, wouldn’t they have done it in July, when he had more value to other clubs?) On the other hand, Haniger is just a season away from free agency, and Jerry Dipoto -- the guy who dealt his closer to a division rival with the M’s just one game back in the Wild Card race -- is capable of pretty much anything on the trade front. So yes, we will be keeping the light on in the Mitch Haniger Speculation Department, thank you very much.
Paul DeJong, SS, Cardinals
It will be very interesting to see how the Cardinals handle their middle infield, especially with so many impact players available at shortstop in free agency. Moving DeJong to second base to accommodate someone like Trevor Story or Corey Seager is an option. But so is moving DeJong to another team altogether. (Or giving the everyday shortstop job to Edmundo Sosa, which could also result in a DeJong trade.) DeJong is a good player, but his inconsistent track record makes it difficult to pin his value down. He’s guaranteed $15.3 million over the next two seasons, with team options for 2024 and ’25. He could be a change-of-scenery candidate.
Matt Chapman, 3B, and Matt Olson, 1B, A's
In terms of guaranteed salaries, the A’s have only about $14 million total owed to Elvis Andrus and Stephen Piscotty on the books for 2022, plus either a $4 million option or $750,000 buyout for Jake Diekman. But they have a load of arbitration cases involving important players -- Olson, Chapman, Chris Bassitt, Sean Manaea, Frankie Montas, Tony Kemp, Chad Pinder and others. They’re also going to have a load of impact free agents, including Mark Canha, Yan Gomes, Yusmeiro Petit, Sergio Romo, Jed Lowrie and others. So fielding another contending team on a tight budget is going to be tough, and, unfortunately, that could lead to the A’s taking advantage of the trade value of one of their arbitration-eligible stars (Chapman and Olson are both entering their second arb round), as they’ve done in the past. Really, any of the Oakland arb guys could be listed here.
Kevin Kiermaier, CF, Rays
We’ll list Kiermaier because, entering his final guaranteed year of team control, he’s the Rays’ most obvious trade candidate (though the $12.2 million owed to him next season could be a hangup). But look, these are the Rays we’re talking about. Literally anything is possible. They had conversations with the Cubs this summer about Kiermaier and injured ace Tyler Glasnow, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery but still has trade value. Would the Rays pay Glasnow eight figures over the next two seasons to pitch a limited number of innings? Hard to say. Austin Meadows, Manuel Margot, Yandy Diaz and Ji-Man Choi are all lineup pieces that could conceivably be dealt by a team that is always open to roster churn.
Yermín Mercedes, DH, White Sox
For one blissful month, Mercedes lit the baseball world aflame with a totally unexpected 1.113 OPS. Then he slumped, got sent down and was so frustrated that he hinted at retirement. Mercedes is 28 and his April performance may have been a flash in the pan. But if relations have soured on the South Side, perhaps another club would give him a shot.
Roberto Pérez, C, Cleveland
The José Ramírez chatter is warranted, given this organization’s history of dealing star players. But with the payroll stripped to the bone, the soon-to-be Guardians are more likely to build around and perhaps even extend Ramírez than trade him. They will, however, explore deals in areas where they have depth -- and that includes the catcher spot. Pérez is one of the best defensive catchers in the sport, but his bat has really sagged the last two seasons and he’s played just 34 games this year while dealing with a right shoulder injury. Given the need for catching around the game, it still might be worth exercising Pérez’s $7 million option and working out a deal. Cleveland also has a bit of a logjam of middle infielders and could move either Andres Giménez or Amed Rosario, both of whom arrived in the Francisco Lindor trade.
Michael Fulmer, RHP, Tigers
If the Tigers were going to move Fulmer, who has found success in a conversion to relief work, they probably would have done so at the Deadline. This organization is graduating from rebuild mode and trying instead to add to what it has at the big league level. But Fulmer’s entering his last round of arbitration, so he’s worth keeping in mind here.
Josh Bell, 1B, Nationals
This was one of the last men standing after the Nationals’ trading spree at the Deadline. The Nats might again opt to keep him for his final arbitration round before free agency. But they’ve considered moving recent trade acquisition Riley Adams to first base -- in which case dealing Bell, who has had a solid season in Washington, is a possibility.
Didi Gregorius, SS, Jean Segura, 2B or Rhys Hoskins, 1B, Phillies
Gregorius and Segura will be pending free agents in 2022 (the Phillies do hold an option on Segura for ’23), and Hoskins is entering his second round of arbitration. Trading any of them could be a way for the Phillies to free up money and perhaps improve what has been one of the worst defensive infields in baseball this season.
Jorge Mateo, UTL, Orioles
Staff ace John Means, first baseman Trey Mancini and outfielder Anthony Santander are trade candidates. But that was also the case at the Deadline -- and the O’s didn’t deal them (trading Mancini would be a particularly big emotional blow to the fan base). Mateo could be interesting, though. The O’s scooped up the former top Yankees prospect on waivers and he’s provided them with power and speed while playing a variety of positions. Because he’s under control through 2025, he could be a nice trade chip. But hopefully the O’s are getting to the point of focusing more on arrivals than departures.
Josh Donaldson, 3B, Twins
We’ll begin and end this list with a Twin. Consider it a sandwich. Or a Twinkie. Donaldson is a fantastic athlete with an elite -- albeit injury riddled -- track record. But Donaldson will be 36 years old next season -- and he’s owed a guaranteed $43.5 million over the next two years, along with an $8 million buyout of his $16 million club option for 2024. So you’re not going to move him without swallowing some salary or attaching him to a more attractive trade piece. Given the way they fell flat in 2021 and already moved staff ace José Berríos, the Twins might very well try.